Steve Mascord,, NRL.com
There may not have been many of them there, but according to outstanding Country centre Jack Wighton at least one individual in the crowd at Coffs Harbour yesterday will have their dream crushed if the traditional City-Country clash is abandoned in the years to come.
Wighton’s passionate defence of the fixture has been backed up today by an impassioned Country Rugby League media release calling for calm over the smallest crowd in the 102-year history of City-Country games.
“It was only four years ago this game was back in Orange and I was sitting in the crowd watching,” Wighton told NRL.com.
“Thinking how much it meant to me... all the country towns, they [fans in neighbouring populations] come from miles to watch it. I don’t think it’s in doubt at all. We all had a lot of passion for it and it should stay.
“It’s chasing a dream.”
CRL general manager Terry Quinn said a temporary grandstand at BCE Stadium created an expense that was passed on to spectators.
“We fought extremely hard to keep this game and the ARL Commission has supported us with a significant investment in helping stage the match,” he said in a statement.
“At no stage has anyone approached this game as a money-making exercise.
“It was with the best of intentions that we invested in extra grandstand seating for the match but this impacted on the pricing structure and we all have to take some lessons from that.”
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Country coach Trent Barrett said after Sunday’s game that criticism of the fixture angered him, pointing to the progress made by the likes of Wighton.
Raiders star Wighton continued: “It was unbelievable. It was amazing playing outside of Micky Ennis and playing with people like big Willie Mason, people who’ve done it all. It’s just unreal.
“[Willie] is a very passionate man. He’s always giving advice. It’s great for a young fella.”
The 18-12 win by Country marked the end of a largely successful representative weekend, with a sell-out 25,628 crowd on hand to witness Australia account for New Zealand 32-12 at Canberra Stadium on Friday night.
ARL Committee chairman John Grant said on ABC on Sunday he was looking at ways of involving Queensland next year – and of formalising team medicals so that clubs were not seen to be pressuring players to withdraw.
The crowd of 10,143 at Centrebet Stadium for the Saturday night representative double-header featuring NSW and Queensland Under-20s State of Origin and Tonga versus Samoa was also a triumph – although the fact around one tenth of them invaded the pitch with the Tonga-Samoa match still underway took some gloss off the occasion.
Speaking on the ABC, Grant said: “While there was a pitch invasion and while that’s absolutely not where we want to be, if you talk to the players and officials, there was not one bit of malice in that pitch invasion.
“It was all about the fact there was an unexpected win and they [Tonga fans] were excited.”
Next year, it is expected the two highest-ranked Pacific nations at the World Cup will play off in mid-season for the right to be the fourth country in the Four Nations, in October 2014.